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Home > Publications > Quill > Continuing ed series great for freelancers


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Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Continuing ed series great for freelancers

Western Washington Pro Chapter increases membership with program

By Dana E. Blozis

In today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving world of new media, journalists are challenged to not only produce well-researched, objective work on time, but also to stay on top of current media and technology trends. With so much to juggle, how do busy journalists keep current?

The Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ found a way, thanks to Michelle Nicolosi, local SPJ board member and assistant managing editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. In the fall, Nicolosi developed a continuing education program to benefit local journalists while drawing new members to SPJ.

“When I first joined the board, I was struck by what a hard time the board was having attracting new members,” Nicolosi said. “I felt we could do better if we offered a service that’s hard to come by in many areas and newsrooms: continuing education classes.”

With an enthusiastic thumbs-up from fellow board members and support from local journalists and media experts, Nicolosi created a nine-week series to offer area journalists multimedia skills needed to compete in today’s market. She started by creating a syllabus outlining the class topics and schedule, and asking local experts to volunteer their time. The series included topics such as creating killer audio, Photoshop for beginners, how to edit audio and create Soundslides, and the anatomy of a two-day investigation.

Nicolosi promoted the series on the chapter’s Web site, www.spjwash.org, via e-mail and on colorful postcards that board members passed out to fellow journalists. The postcards were designed by P-I artist Andrew Saeger, who approved the use of his design for other SPJ chapters. To download the artwork, visit www.nicolosi.org/spjfront.pdf and www.nicolosi.org/spjback.pdf.

Viewing the schedule at a glance, journalists could decide whether the series brought enough value to them to consider joining SPJ. To encourage attendance, classes and pizza were offered to SPJ members at no charge. Nonmembers were charged $7 for each class, making it cost-effective for them to join SPJ if they planned to take several classes. To ensure that enough journalists attended to make it worth the instructor’s time, RSVPs were required. Each class drew 12 to 20 participants and were well attended and well planned, said freelancer Manny Frishberg, who went to all but one of the sessions.

“It was nice to be in a class with other professional journalists,” Frishberg said. “I would welcome a series of follow-up sessions where subjects could be explored in greater depth, but overall, it was one of the best things SPJ has offered in this area in the last few years and definitely worth the price of admission.”

As a further incentive to attend the continuing education series, the chapter ran a discounted membership promotion. During this two-month period, class attendees could join SPJ for $50, a 30 percent savings over the regular membership fee of $72. As a result, membership for the western Washington Pro chapter increased by 21 professional members, bringing the chapter’s total membership to 200.

“I expected to be an interested observer, but the sessions were packed full of helpful tips and shared experiences from those who do these things best,” said Maurine Jeude of the Seattle Times. “I found the sessions interesting, actionable and inspirational.”

For chapters considering holding similar programs, Nicolosi offers the following advice:

* Keep it simple. Hold all of the classes in a convenient location on the same day of the week.

* Offer membership discounts and food to entice attendees, and require RSVPs so you know who will attend.

* Ask local topic experts to share their knowledge with other journalists and to bring handouts to class. Most will be thrilled to have the opportunity to share their expertise.

* Focus on offering new skills to journalists, rather than improving existing ones. Consider topics such as blogging, digital photography, audio and video editing, Dreamweaver, Flash and other new media skills.

* Avoid mixing ethics training and other non-skills-based lectures. Focus on training, plain and simple.

* Confirm the instructor’s attendance at class and find out what special needs the lecturer has.


For more information: www.spjwash.org/training or e-mail

Michelle Nicolosi at MichelleNicolosi@seattlepi.com

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